Cost of Emergency Preparedness in the Workplace

Ken Walker

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As a senior manager its often hard to make accurate assumptions of cost for emergency preparedness in the workplace. Furthermore, it seems like an easy task to undertake. Thus managers often have supervisors or health and safety reps perform the role as part of their portfolio.

The end result may cover off on the planning requirements, under health and safety legislation, but the ultimate goal of keeping employees and occupants safe may not be the result. The complexity of emergency preparedness in the workplace has a number of theoretical and practical components that must be integrated to ensure appropriate performance during emergencies.

1. Cost-effectiveness and a view from the emergency services

Over many decades the Australian emergency services, more specifically the fire services, have been trying to integrate effective and escalating response mechanisms into their operations. Some components have been quite effective and others not so workable.

Let’s firstly look at the simple activity of supplying a strike team or group of trucks to help with blacking out operations. This activity is critical and if not done effectively can undermine the entire operation by putting the fire back into an out of control status.

There are a huge amount of variables but keeping effective data, which can be analysed at a later date, is not something that is done very well in this public sector organisations.

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2. Comparing costs of providing preparedness and response

In the past its been the tendency to send trucks and crews for blacking out operations using a span of control ration of 1:5. This is certainly not a bad thing as it allows leaders up the line to perform well and not have too many activities to deal with at once. Most truck in the team will have four to five staff or volunteers which equates to five trucks and 25 personnel.

If the fire is very large, above 1000ha, there will be many of theses teams requiring literally many 100 of personnel. As you could imagine, during an emergency there is a huge amount of work to do on the fire ground and having so many trucks and crews is certainly justified.

Even so, let’s look at a way of making it a little more cost-effective, but still function at a level that will achieve the objective of blacking out the fire in a suitable time frame. The tendency is to send larger trucks which require large crews. The purchase price of such equipment (trucks) is anything up to $500,000 for a single resource. Let’s take the average cost of such resources at around $300,000. Some will be more and other far less.

To ensure the effectiveness of blacking out operations there are a number of tools that can enhance this activity. One expensive piece of equipment is the thermal imaging camera. Because of their price, often up to $20,000, it is most unlikely that each truck and crew will have one. So we have trucks worth many hundreds of thousand and required equipment that is expensive in its own right.

Furthermore, to find volunteers to operate these truck and generally travelling away from home can be very difficult. The normal tour of duty is around fours days. Sometimes less but often more.

Note: It should be said here that there are so many variables, but that is the case with most activities in both business and emergency operations.

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3. Working on efficient processes and systems

As an example, let’s say we send away a single strike team with 5 like trucks 25 personnel and 4 to five strike team management personnel. They have large 4 x 4 trucks and are equipped with one thermal imaging camera per truck (which is unlikely). They have to travel 200km to get to the fire ground and they will be working for four days.

You could imagine the logistical nightmare managers of this operation would have, from sleeping quarters to provide enough food for each meal. When this is escalated to 20 or thirty strike team on larger fires it is almost hard to comprehend the massive logistical operation.

Each crew will do a lot of work and here are some of the variable that could affect efficiency;
Training & experience of crews
Training and experience of supervisors
Size of firefighting pumps
Size of nozzles
Type of equipment available for the operation
Size of hose lines
And many other factors

4. Downsizing and remaining efficient and effective

Now, let us look at what may happen if we downsized the equipment. Firstly, say we used small 4 x 4 trucks or even just general four-wheel drives. They would need to be capable of carrying 600 to 1000 litres of water and associated equipment including hoses, pumps, thermal imaging camera, chainsaw and other essential equipment.

The cost of such vehicles would probably average $150,000 which is a large saving on the larger tankers. Their operation would require two to three personnel again a large reduction in the required human resources. Because of this reduction, it would be appropriate to have a thermal imaging camera in each vehicle which helps to ensure efficiency during blacking out operations.

Because of the smaller amount of resources, it would be more likely we could increase the span of control for supervisors to 6:1 or even 8:1. Again increasing efficiency.

Training and experience would be a key here so that inexperienced operators are effective and don’t waste valuable resources. Furthermore, it would be easier to find fewer volunteers or staff to perform the blacking out role.

The moral to this story is that some senior fire service manager and volunteer leaders are looking at making all aspect of firefighting more efficient without compromising operations.

Generally, those making these changes have many years of experience and see the benefit of driving better efficiencies. Thus, when discussing emergency management arrangements it can be very cost-effective to have assistance from emergency management specialists. Most of all achieving better or similar result than an employee putting in many hundreds of hours researching and completing the emergency plan.

It should be noted that larger tankers are always going to be the prefered resource when combatting a large out of control fire.

5. Summary of Emergency management planning arrangements

Legislation requires every owner of the physical business to plan for emergencies. This function shouldn’t be an onerous and complicated process. Emergencies happen every day, but some businesses go for many years or even decades without a single emergency.

So it’s important to plan but includes only those features that are contextualised and specific to the risks your business may face. I.e. if you have a number of employees it is likely at some time there will be a medical emergency. Furthermore, if your business is a simple office building, it is unlikely to have the risk associated with a manufacturing plant.

An emergency plan is essential for both of the above but they would be very different. One is more complex and higher risk than the other.

Appropriate guidance from an experienced manager could save you a substantial amount of money and resources.

I have included a lot of ideas here with little or no detail. If you have any questions or reject assumptions relating to the above please ask me for clarification. It would be possible to write a book on this information and even then not include a complete analysis.

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